Today the government has announced it is investigating potential water contamination around Ohakea and Woodbourne airbases.

Levels of two chemical compounds, PFOS and PFOA, have been found by the NZ Defence Force to be above guidelines at these sites and so, as a precautionary measure, they are going to test the water of properties neighbouring the bases to see if there is water contamination

PFOS and PFOA were historically used in foams to fight and train for flammable liquid fires but are no longer widely used. These two compounds are from a group of chemicals known as PFAS. Compounds from this group are still used in some foams for fighting liquid fuel fires as they remain the most effective tool for fighting these fires.

95% of foam used by Fire and Emergency New Zealand is Class A foam and does not contain any PFAS substances. At incidents where we use Class A foam, we can assure the public it does not contain these substances and are essentially a detergent.

We have had the bulk of our Class B foam stocks chemically analysed, and confirm none of these tested products contain any PFOS or PFOA. https://fireandemergency.nz/assets/Documents/Files/Environmental-assessment-of-existing-fire-fighter-foams.pdf (external link)

We are taking a precautionary approach and have issued National Notice 026/2017 instructing firefighters not to use the small amount of type of Class B foam we haven’t tested while we continue to investigate whether it contains PFOS or PFOA.  

Research into the effects of the chemical are ongoing, and the Ministry of Health advises there are no acute health risks. We believe the risk of harmful effects to our firefighters is low as:

  • 95% of foam used by Fire and Emergency New Zealand is Class A foam which does not contain PFOS or PFOA, or any PFAS substances.
  • We have had the bulk of our Class B Foam tested (95%) and it does not contain PFOS or PFOA.
  • In terms of historic use of Class B foam potentially containing PFOS or PFOA, health officials advise the greatest risk to human health they present is from ingesting contaminated food and drink.
  • Direct exposure through skin contact carries low risk to human health.

Safety of people - firefighters and communities -  is our number one priority. We’re working closely with our people, the unions, government partners and other key people to monitor progress on investigations into the potential effects of PFOS and PFOA, and offers assistance to any of our people who are concerned.

As a responsible government agency, we are supporting our partner agencies Ministry for the Environment (leading the All of Government Response), Environmental Protection Authority, Ministry of Health, Ministry for Primary Industries, WorkSafe and NZ Defence Force to address the issue

For more information on this issue, visit www.mfe.govt.nz/pfas (external link)

If you have any concerns, please talk to your leader in the first instance.

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